Naked Liberation at No 42 Lady Bay Beach – 22 February 2015

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Until recently I was dreading Lady Bay. It is the second of, I think, three  ‘clothing optional’ beaches in Sydney (this one granted that status in 1976). The first in this project was beach No 13: Cobblers.

I am not generally inclined to get my kit off in public. Prior to Cobblers I never had and I found the experience fairly nerve-wracking. Back then (20 February 2011 – so almost four years exactly) I was not as well equipped, mentally, to look at things that made me uncomfortable, step back, and question why. But several weeks ago, thinking about Lady Bay, I asked myself what was the worst thing that could happen? My answers were: someone I don’t want to talk to might talk to me and I might get sunburnt is places I’d really rather not. I realised the former was nothing to fear as I’m perfectly capable of walking away from pesky people and the latter I could take precautions against.

So it was that my friends were more worried about Lady Bay than I was.

I rode my bicycle the 22 or so kilometres to Camp Cove in Watsons Bay from which I walked to Lady Bay. Sydney is an undulating city and this was an undulating ride – up down, up down – Google says ascended 265 metres and descended 276.

Camp Cove looks like a beach and is treated as a beach but is not listed by Gregory’s as a beach so I have not visited it as part of this project. But many, many people are visiting it today. There’s an adorable kiosk dispensing ice creams, lollies and coffee to a steady stream of customers. I have a coconut sorbet and a short black – neither is fantastic but both are perfect after the ride.

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The Camp Cove Kiosk.


With my courage enforced by cold creamy coconutiness I walk the 300 or so metres to the top of the stairs leading to Lady Bay. The beach is about 100 metres below the walking path but not far enough for me to miss a quite fit very naked man emerging from the harbour on the beach below.

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I’m here, no time like the present. Down the stairs I go. And along the beach looking for a spot to call my own which is near enough the cliff as to not be too visible to the strolling masses of clothed onlookers above and not too close to other visitors.

I am a little intimidated as nearly everyone on the beach is male – maybe 15 or 20 men and three or four women including myself. The men come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Including two quite heavy, quite furry and, if it’s not too much to say, rather, um, tiny, men who – not together mind you – stand about on the beach occasionally smoking cigarettes. But, you know, whatever. Lady Bay is, I understand, a mostly gay beach so it’s likely none of these men will look at me with even a passing glance of interest.

I am hot and sweaty from the ride and the harbour is calling. Off comes the kit, all of it – and especially the glasses leaving the world a soft blur. So in nothing but my tattoos I stride the 10 or so metres to the water and plunge in … knowing I’m visible to those above and, presumably, those in boats not too far off. And … so what? If they are judging me, what do I care? Not a whisper do I care.


It’s fantastic. The late summer water temperature is perfect – just cool enough to be refreshing yet warm enough to be inviting. Even out of focus I know the city is all around me and yet here I am naked and floating in Sydney Harbour. It is liberating and genuinely fabulous

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I wrap a towel about my waist and sit topless feeling the late afternoon sun on my wet skin and watching the light jewel off the water. A young bloke notices my “No 42 Lady Bay” sign and asks about it. He is not, I realise, someone I did not want to talk to – I am happy to chat and tell him about the blog. His name is David and he has a website devoted to Sydney’s nudist scene (

It is strange but good – I’ve never met someone in the nude before. In fact I don’t think I’ve conversed in the nude with anyone ever who was not, at some point, a sexual partner. If you see what I mean. None of the gyms I’ve belonged to have been the sort where women wander about the change rooms naked, for instance. Ah, well … I have been to baths in Japan where I did exchange greetings while naked with other naked women but we didn’t converse for lack of a shared language. But David and I chat for a good 10 minutes or so, introduce ourselves and shake hands. All very civil. All very liberating … I can’t come up with an equally good word for it.

I swim again then sit and write for a while then swim again. I would stay longer but I hadn’t arrived until nearly 5 pm and it was now coming up on 6 pm. I was taking the ferry home but it would still take the better part of two hours to get there.

Waiting on the wharf I got some fish and chips and rang my best mate who was awaiting a report on Lady Bay and all I could say was that it was fantastic. Really fantastic. For days after it left me feeling fabulous and strong and like someone who had finally learned the value of asking of myself, of anything I’m feeling worried about, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Lady Bay is in the Municipality of Woollahra, the state electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and Federal Division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

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You May Have Your Mansion But the Beach is There for All – No 41, Kutti (1 February 2015)

Kutti Beach as seen from the Watsons Bay Ferry.

Kutti Beach is in Vaucluse, long the most affluent of Sydney suburbs and still in the top five. Prior to European colonisation the area was home to the Birrabirragal clan of the Dharug language group. They named the whole area, now called Watsons Bay, Kutti.

That the usual Sunday crowds are waiting at Watsons Bay is evident on the wharf at Circular Quay.

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I am set to meet Tom Allen, his wife Tenny and her sister Narineh under the big Morton Bay Fig in Robertson Park at 1 pm.  Tom is a bicyclist and all-around adventurer, blogger, filmmaker and bicycle advocate. I’d been following his blog for a while when he wrote a post saying he’d just arrived in Sydney and would be staying a while. I got in touch and invited him along to a beach outing and he, to my delight, accepted.

It’s not a perfect beach day – the sun comes and goes and its a bit breezy, but its summer, in Sydney, and two of our foursome have just arrived from the UK. (Narineh has been living in Sydney for a couple of years.)

Here’s the thing about the most touristic waterside places in Sydney – if you walk just that little bit further the crowds will drop away.

We walk south past the baths, past the crowded café at the adorable library, and past the Vaucluse Yacht Club. Gibbons Beach has maybe 15 visitors. As we pass through the reserve there I point out the house at the end of the beach of which I’d wondered, when I visited Gibbons, “what sort of life would I have had to live to live there?”

Up to the street, a right turn then another into Wharf Road, and we come to a dead end facing the Vaucluse Amateur Sailing Club.

Having Googled Kutti before coming I knew there would be a narrow stairwell down to the beach and so it was, there it is.

The secret to Kutti is finding the stairs.
The secret to Kutti is finding the stairs.

And so we arrive on an exclusive, obscure, quiet little beach in the heart of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

Kutti is about 100 metres long, maybe less, and some 20 metres deep. A couple of very small sailing boats are pulled up on the sand and a dozen or so boats are moored in the bay. Just as we arrive man and his dog, on a paddleboard, return to the beach – both a bit wet and salty looking.

A man and his dog.
A man and his dog.

There are maybe four or five houses that front Kutti Beach. One is for sale if you are in the market of a multi-million dollar home. In many countries this little stretch of beach would have been divvied up amongst these few properties. But in Australia all beaches are public. Tom is impressed.

There are families using the “boathouses” (now more loungerooms/guesthouses with kitchens) of two of the houses – kids are running around, in and out of the houses, into the water and back again. I am sort of amused to see Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags strung on this house  which was recently on the market with an expected price tag of $25 million.

Revisiting the question of what it would take to live here Tom says “good fortune” and I suggest that even if the fortune has been in the family for a century I expect the wealth would have been gained in a way that offends my sensibilities at least a little. He laughs.

The clouds remain mostly at bay; its warm and lovely and very very Sydney. We all swim then sit on the beach and chat about the lives we’ve led, are leading, hope to lead. We swim some more. I take my obligatory photograph and then its time for cold beer back at the Watsons Bay Hotel.

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Before we went our separate ways I even remembered to get a group photograph.

Me, Tom, Tenny and Narineh
Me, Tom, Tenny and Narineh

Then the dark clouds begin to gather making for dramatic light through spray-splashed windows on the ferry ride back to Circular Quay.

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Kutti Beach is 19 kilometres (12 miles) from home. It’s in the Municipality of Woollahra, the state electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and Federal Division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

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A Riot of Kookaburras and Cerulean Seas – No 40 Jibbon (4 January 2015)

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The strange summer continues as I’ve had to skip another (and hopefully the last) of the Hawkesbury beaches which can only be reached from the water. I will visit number 39, Hungry Beach, along with numbers 35 (Gunyah – Brooklyn) and 37 (Hallets) in due course.


I got up this morning and didn’t dawdle. I was going to the beach without delay.

I catch the bus to the Queen Victoria Building and the train from Town Hall Station to Cronulla Station and, from there, walk down to the ferry wharf. A riot of kookaburras are laughing their heads off in an oversize gum tree. The sun is hot. The air is steamy. A ferry’s worth of passengers await the 12:00 pm crossing.

With the arrival of the New Year my mind has finally turned fully toward my travel plans; my big bicycle ride begins in April with a hit out around Australia for a few weeks before moving to Europe in late May. I feel like I’ve opened myself to a traveller’s life and a traveller’s experiences even while still in Sydney.

On Friday afternoon I spent some time with Australian bicycle tourist and blogger Matthew Harris having drinks and talking travel – our catch up the result of good fortune and the internets.  In the evening while Jonathan Bradley and I had dinner we fell into conversation with Carla and Boris, recently arrived holidaymakers from Germany. (I wrote a thing about the day on my bicycling blog.)

Now here it is Sunday and I’m seated in the bow of the Bundeena Ferry surrounded by people speaking many different languages in many different accents. Opposite me two women of a certain age are chatting, they are wearing beach moo-moos and sun hats, gold jewelry compliments fresh manicures. What language are they speaking? Something Eastern European. At times it sounds German: und, nicht – but at other times it doesn’t sound like German at all. I am reminded I know nothing of Eastern European languages; I’m so ignorant I can’t even guess whether they are speaking a German dialect or Hungarian or Romanian.

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The water is cerulean, shimmering and beautiful. As we near the pier I can see both Hordern and Gunyah are crowded and many passengers await the return journey. Disembarking I am greeted by more laughing kookaburras; I never tire of that sound.

Jibbon is about a 15 minute walk from the ferry wharf. It’s 750 metres of curving beach stretching to a bush-covered headland which is part of Royal National Park and home to some Aboriginal carvings. A flotilla of pleasure craft are moored mostly at the eastern end of the beach while sun bathers and cricket players favour the western end. I find a patch of shade near the midway point. I sit and I write until a swim beckons.

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The water is cool but inviting and perfectly clear.

A dickhead arrives in his big motor boat, he is alone and middle-aged. He swims then sits in the sun with one of the worst radio stations in Sydney cranking from his sound system. “How’s the midlife crisis going?!” I shout but he can’t hear me over the doof-doof pouring from his speakers and making the water pulse with the bass. (Okay that didn’t happen – the shouting, the bass.)

The dickhead and his boat - I'll leave it to you to imagine the music.
The dickhead and his boat – I’ll leave it to you to imagine the music.

I sit on the beach trying to ignore the asshole and feel the sun and wind dry the sea on my skin into a fine dusting, a slight crust, of salt. I will enjoy feeling this on my skin the rest of the day and will sort of hate washing it off this evening.

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Jibbon is 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Five Dock. It’s in the Sutherland Shire Local Government Area, Heathcote State Electorate (Lee Evans, Liberal) and Cunningham Federal Division (Sharon Bird, Labor).

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It seems they may have forgotten this plaque.



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Is this heaven? No, it’s Bundeena – No 38 Horderns (21 December 2014)

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Horderns Beach from the ferry landing.
Horderns Beach from the ferry landing.

This summer’s beaches have created challenges.

I should have begun with No 35 Gunyah (Brooklyn) – up on the Hawkesbury – but it can only be reached from the water so I need my mate and his boat at a time that works for us both and the weather is amenable. I broke my rules and skipped to No 36 Gunyah (Bundeena); No 37 is Halletts – another Hawkesbury beach with water access only – has been added to the boating list. Which brings us back to Bundeena for No 38, Horderns.

I’ve failed to find the connection but I presume Horderns Beach is associated with the Hordern Family – the 19th and 20th century retailing dynasty. They of the now defunct and demolished Anthony Hordern & Sons – once the world’s largest department store (on the site of what is now World Square); also, of course, the Pavilion, the Fountain (at the corner of Pyrmont St and Pyrmont Bridge Rd) and a scattering of heritage listed homes.


An American work colleague of mine, Joe, has taken an interest in this blog – which is lovely – he lives in Cronulla and his mother is visiting from wintery Michigan. I’ve taken the train to Cronulla, where we will meet and catch the ferry across Port Hacking to Bundeena.

Awaiting their arrival at Grind I spot a kid who couldn’t have been more of a stereotype if he tried: about 12-years old with sun-bleached, salt-sculptured nearly shoulder-length hair; his skin was golden, his eyes were blue; he strode barefoot on the hot bitumen like he’d never worn shoes. When he finished helping him mum and he rolled past on his skateboard it was to a soundtrack of Forever Young (in my head).

Joe is a big – as in tall and athletic – gregarious guy. He’s a genuinely nice fellow, interested in others and always smiling. I like that Joe, unlike a lot of the other Americans who come to work for the Australian Baseball League, determined to live near the beach, had chosen Cronulla and, once there, had thrown himself into life in the community and made a lot of local friends. His mother, Bianca – not surprisingly is equally outgoing with a big exiled Noo Yawka personality (life has taken her from the Big Apple to upstate New York then west to Michigan following her husband’s academic career – but it’s clear that “New Yorker” is very much a key part of her identity).

Horderns Beach from the Bundeena Ferry
Horderns Beach from the Bundeena Ferry

On the ferry Bianca regales us (and perhaps embarrasses Joe) with stories of her son, her daughter, her husband and life in Michigan. Once in Bundeena we wander up the hill to the RSL for lunch – I again have the fish and chips and they are, again, excellent. The RSL is exactly as it was two weeks ago … same Santa decorations and tinsel and baubles, but now they’ve added a Christmas tree beneath the plastic eternal flame.

Then we go to the beach. It is a good, if not perfect, beach day: hot in the sun but with a cooling breeze.

It’s busy but not chockers. There are family groups enjoying picnics and barbeques in the shade of the fig trees while others have erected tents and umbrellas on the hot exposed sand. The usual multicultural colourwheel of Sydneysiders are here: a Muslim family getting their charcoal grill going, a group of Asian students engaging is a supersoaker battle royale, European backpackers, and a ramshackle mix of mongrel Whitefella Australians.

Hordern is a long – 200 or 300 metres – shallow curve of sand stretching west from the ferry wharf. The eastern end, where we set up, is separated from the town centre of Bundeena by a park. Along the rest, houses, lovely enviable houses, face Port Hacking and Cronulla beyond with only the beach and scrubby dune between porches and the beach.


We swim. The water is shallow and clear; it has warm pockets and cool ones; the breeze blows goosebumps onto my wet, exposed skin. Bianca speaks of snow drifts and compares Bundeena favourably with heaven.

I sit on the sand warming in the sun when my friend Jim arrives and we join the others back in the water. Bianca tells a tale of bringing baby Joe home for the first time just after a blizzard in Syracuse – “Remember that Joe?” she asks and Joe smiles that smile of resignation to a parent’s repetitive joke.

When we’ve been in long enough Joe and Bianca move on to Gunyah while Jim and I retreat to the RSL – I’m becoming a regular.

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Look, it was a nice visit but returning to the same suburb so soon (and knowing that the final beach in the Bundeena triptych – Jibbon- is just around the corner) took a little of the excitement and adventure out of the day. Still, it was lovely. It was Sunday, the sun was shining warmly, the water was mostly pleasant … any complaints would be frivolous.



Horderns Beach is 30 km (19 miles) from home (via the shortest route to Cronulla and the ferry). It’s in the Sutherland Shire Local Government Area, Heathcote State Electorate (Lee Evans, Liberal) and Cunningham Federal Division (Sharon Bird, Labor).

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I Think You Must Leave Australia to Become Fully Australian – No 36 Gunyah (Bundeena) 23 November

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It’s late November and this is only the first beach of the summer. I’ve been delayed by the hopes of sticking to my rule of visiting the beaches in strictly alphabetic order. Beach number 35 is Gunyah (Brooklyn) which can only be reached from the water so I’ve been waiting for my boat-owning friend’s schedule to mesh with mine on a day with fine weather. It’s proving a challenge so I decided to break the rules and set No 35 aside to press on to No 36.

There are, I think, a couple of same-name, different-location beaches to be visited in this project but these are the first and they couldn’t be more distant from one another. The beach at Brooklyn is on the southern side of the Hawkesbury at the very northern reaches of Sydney. The beach at Bundeena is some 100 kilometres (62 miles) south on the southern shore of Port Hacking at the very southern reaches of Sydney.

Gunyah means “an Aboriginal bush hut, typically made of sheets of bark and branches” and is derived from the word ganya from the Dharuk Aboriginal language – meaning “house or hut”. If you are interested in knowing more about the homes built by Aboriginal people this blog post is a good place to start.

19th century engraving of an Aboriginal humpy or gunyah.
19th century engraving of an Aboriginal humpy or gunyah.

The cicadas were screaming as I left my place – beach umbrella under one arm, swimming gear piled in a bag in the other – to catch the bus to Annandale. Laura and I have taken to meeting at Little Marionette when we are heading out someplace. She lives in Annandale; I take the bus there and she drops me back home afterwards.

Walking to the café I began thinking of my departure next year. I’ll be off for a long bicycle ride around Europe and other places and expect I’ll be gone about a year.  I was thinking of my mates seeing me off at the airport and I got a little teary … it’s still 26 weeks away. Oh, wow – six months today.

Planning - at Little Marionette
Planning – at Little Marionette

I’ve been reading Dr Caroline Ford’s Sydney Beaches: A History – she quotes a letter to the editor from the early 20th century suggesting how a properly deployed towel will provide the beach goer all the modesty needed to change from street clothes to swimming attire. I’ve felt for some time that my willingness to use this method was a proud mark of my Australianness. And so it was, that we changed at the car – towels used to cover what modesty decrees should be covered.

The path to Gunyah
The path to Gunyah

There’s a charming, discreet, narrow and steep path down to Gunyah. The beach is just east of the ferry pier but around a small rocky headland so, while busy, it wasn’t teeming with the masses. It runs maybe 150 metres or so – a shallow curve of maize-coloured sand from one rocky platform to another. The beach – neither wide nor narrow, perhaps 20 metres deep – backs, in part, on to bush but otherwise on to houses. Including an adorable holiday house which seems stocked with surfskis and paddle boards.

There were families and groups of friends. A few fishing lines were in the water. A scattering of boats were 100 metres out. Further out in Port Hacking sailing boats tacked back and forth on the choppy water. The sounds were of waves lapping/crashing (what’s louder than lapping but softer than crashing?), jet skis in the distance, children’s voices and women’s laughter.

We planted our gear and plunged in … Laura first, and with expediency. Although I know better, I tip toed in as I do – when the water tickled my ribs I counted to three and dove in. The water was deliciously cool and, for being so near one of the world’s great cites, so very clear – slightly green, running to a hazy horizon kissed by clouds, but higher – a sun-blasted sky, the blue burned out. Once in, the sea was lovely, cooling, relaxing, a space all its own. We were hanging, floating – just suspended, toes dancing on a sandy bed. Kids were floating in an inflated ring while boys were throwing around a football and newbie paddle boarders were trying to find the magic.

I love it, I love being here, in this water, in this city and I will miss this project when I’m away next year. Missing this project will be but one piece of missing this city. But I will try, when possible, to spend time near water on Sundays while I’m travelling and to write about them here. I like that, I like that idea.

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As we emerged back onto the suburban street from the narrow path up from the beach a woman asked Laura if this watch, left on a post, was her’s – it wasn’t but it was mine. I must have dropped it when I got my camera out as we arrived. The woman seemed a little sceptical that is was mine, but it was. I love Australia. My watch isn’t worth anything but I think in many places someone would have pocketed it. Here someone had found it and put it in a prominent place hoping the owner would find it – and I did – thanks to the woman who asked Laura about it but hadn’t actually found it herself.

The sea and saltiness made the choice of seafood for lunch so obvious as to not really require discussion. To the Bundeena RSL we went – the Irishwoman taking orders at the bistro warned of a long wait but we weren’t in any hurry and ordered fish and chips and crumbed calamari rings. We got cold beers and waited while looking out at the sea past the Santa Claus decorations and admiring tinsel and cheap baubles strung on the ceiling. The RSL’s Eternal Flame is a bulb behind red flame-shaped plastic situated above a picture of the beach. The Queen – perpetually just coronated – takes in proceedings from over the doorway. Blokes are sitting near the open windows but have their backs turned to the azure sea so as to watch the One Day cricket on the TV.

Santa and the Sea
Santa and the Sea
Festive season at Bundeena RSL
Festive season at Bundeena RSL

Lunch was lovely – just the right amount, cooked well, good chips, and nice diverse salad. Walking back to the car – a pair of parrots, green ones, darted from a bush and attacked Laura. Well, one ran into her and both the bird and Laura were startled.

On our first stop on Gunyah I’d forgotten my sign in the car – now armed with that we headed back down for a few more photos but when we got there the water was again so tempting we plunged back in – and it was just as lovely as before.

We sat a little on the rocks, in the sun, drying and talking about choice and fear and recognising the difference between can’t and won’t. A toddler was exploring the rocks, making full use of his limited grasp of balance – parents with an eye on him but 10 metres away. It was good to see a child that age allowed to explore like that.

The mistiness seemed to be gathering into threatening clouds as we got in the car – but it held and we stopped at the Audley Weir for cups of tea and thick, rich brownies. The tail-enders were still scattered about the park and out on the water in the rental paddle-boats. A very buff dad – shirtless and in boardies – and his five year old son tried to figure out how to throw their boomerang.

We drove back to the city enjoying our lingering saltiness and thinking our various thoughts of what we had to do … today, this week, this month, etc.

I love Sydney and we spent a certain amount of time talking of our mutual love of our adopted town. Laura is contemplating a career-driven temporary move to Asia. The worst thing about that for her is leaving Sydney. And I know exactly what she means.

As much as I am looking forward to my big adventure next year – the excitement, the discovery, just leaping into an unknown space – I’m going to miss Sydney and Australia with heartbreaking intensity. I know there will be times when I will weep lonely tears for the place and for my mates here. I know that I will look longingly at photos of Sydney and that I will watch, through teary eyes, cheesy awful things like the Qantas choir singing I Still Call Australia Home.

I will be away from Australia long enough to truly feel Australian.  I think it’s an important rite of passage for Australians: to go away long enough to really miss it – to imagine the smell of bushfires and eucalyptus, the particularity of the huge blue Australian sky and the sound of the birds: the cry of the kookaburra, the chattering racket of the cockatoos and the screeches of the rainbow lorikeets.

But that’s all months away yet. In the meantime this summer awaits and with it as many beaches as can be managed.

Gunyah Beach (Bundeena) is 52 kilometres (33 miles) from home. It’s in the Sutherland Shire Local Government Area, Heathcote State Electorate (Lee Evans, Liberal) and Cunningham Federal Division (Sharon Bird, Labor) [Wow! A Labor beach! I don’t know the last I’ve visitied].

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No 34: Great Mackerel – 22 June 2014

2014-06-22 13.07.31 (2) On Friday I woke to a radio program about ceremonies people create for themselves. A caller described a women’s winter solstice ceremony she had been conducting for some years. The Winter Solstice marks the moment when more light begins to fill your days. It is the beginning of a new cycle of growing then diminishing sunlight – it’s the nadir. The caller’s ceremony involved acknowledging the events of the past year and letting them go while looking ahead to future plans. It got me thinking.

I’m so keen to close the door on the past year – to set aside both what was bad and what was good and say of it all: done. Let more light shine, let new challenges present themselves, let’s go. I began to mull over a little ceremony for myself.

Of course the winter solstice in Sydney is not exactly a short, dark, cold day. Anything but – we had a gloriously sunny warm weekend. As a one-time resident of colder climes I find Sydney’s winter deliciously decadent and I was happy to incorporate the next beach in our tour into my Solstice plans.

Google was wrong - three hours from home to beach.
Google was wrong – three hours from home to beach.

Great Mackerel Beach is about 50 kilometres from home. It took just shy of three hours for me to get there by train, bus and ferry. The beach is backed by a small community of mostly-holiday homes – no shops, no cafes, just the beach and a few houses.

Free community library on the wharf.
Free community library on the wharf.
Beach number thirty-four: Great Mackerel
Beach number thirty-four: Great Mackerel

When I arrive other passengers from the ferry make their way up the beach to the walking track into Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and an elderly man is fishing with his grandson, otherwise the beach is deserted.

The ceremony I settled on is this: I will take a few minutes to write down all the bad stuff which has happened in this past year – and then burn it; I will then write all the good stuff – and burn it too. 2014-06-22 12.57.25 (2) 2014-06-22 12.59.08 (2)

The thing about ceremonies is you don’t know if you’ll feel different for doing them, you just do them as a way to mark something. I didn’t really expect to feel differently for having burned some bits of paper.

After the ceremony I went for a long walk in the National Park. The first long walk by myself in the bush in way too long. The last was probably in December when I visited Uluru. And I have to admit to feeling released, feeling like that the past year was really over that I could say “Right that’s done now, what’s next?” and mean it.

It helps to feel fresh air in my lungs and my body working hard; it helps to look out to a turquoise-to- lapis-lazuli sea which glistens in the sharp sunlight of Sydney’s winter.

Winter in Sydney - so tough.
Winter in Sydney – so tough.

The walk takes me to a shelter used by Aboriginal people for thousands of years and also a site of Aboriginal rock carvings. I sit on a rock in the sun and think of how long people have sheltered here – experiencing love and loss, the rising and falling of hopes.

Carving of a man made by Aboriginal Australians up to a couple thousand years ago.
Carving of a man made by Aboriginal Australians up to a couple thousand years ago.

Such places help me put things in perspective: my problems are not original or unique to humanity, my life is but one infinitesimally small strand in the story – what I say and do is unlikely to matter much beyond me and the people I know and love. And that, for me, is both a liberating idea and one that brings the focus back on making the most of my time and not stressing too much about the concerns, the rules, and the expectations of others.

As I walk I think about plans for the future and commitments I might make to myself about the coming year. I’m not looking for resolutions or to-do lists but something more general and here’s what I come up with:

To cherish and nurture my existing friendships and leave my heart open to beginning new ones; and to cultivate habits which are in alignment with my values and serve my goals.

That’s it – a pretty good way to think about life, for me, for now.

Three coloured soils/sands
Three coloured soils/sands
I didn't swim but I did dip.
I didn’t swim but I did dip.

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Great Mackerel is in the Pittwater Council LGA, Pittwater State electorate (Rob Stokes, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Mackellar (Bronwyn Bishop, Liberal).


No 33: Grand Flaneur – 9 February 2014

I have been looking forward to this: the westernmost beach in Sydney.  Grand Flaneur Beach is on Chipping Norton Lake in Liverpool.  This would be different.

Twenty-two kilometres from home (13 miles).
Twenty-two kilometres from home (13 miles).

The day is hot and a heat shimmer dances along the tracks as I await the train to Liverpool.  What, I wonder, might I expect?  A parkland?  Yes.  Picnicking Muslims? Almost certainly.  Children swimming in a lake health officials would discourage you from swimming in?  Probably.  Beyond that I have no ideas.

Unusual destination for a beach.
Unusual destination for a beach.

This is truly Sydney’s west and a mix of faces and cultures greet my arrival: a saffron-robed Cambodian monk with his mate; tall, thin Sudanese teenagers; women of various backgrounds in hijab.  The Anglos I see are all a little broken in one way or another – like the ancient-looking woman in her thirties nodding off in the bus shelter.

I am the only passenger on the bus as it winds through suburban streets past modern, but not too new, houses set in neatly mowed lawns, many with more than two cars, some with boats and caravans.

Reminded me of the 'Brady Bunch' house.
Reminded me of the ‘Brady Bunch’ house.

From the bus stop I walk a few blocks to the park and, sure enough, children and teenagers swimming in the lake and a large party of picnicking, gender-separated, Muslims – Afghanis perhaps.  Some of the women, in ankle-length covers, are using the outdoor gym equipment provided by Liverpool Council.

Not a bad spot for a workout.
Not a bad spot for a workout.
Beach number 32 - Grand Flaneur.
Beach number 33 – Grand Flaneur.

It’s a lovely park – green open spaces, trees, and, of course, the lake.  Much of it literally rubbish strewn.  Wrappers, food scraps, drink bottles just left scattered on the ground – often within twenty metres of a bin.  WTF people?

Rubbish Rubbish Everywhere
Rubbish Rubbish Everywhere

The sounds of a Sunday arvo in the park: voices in Arabic and English, hollers from the blokes playing soccer in the beating sun, jet skis on the lake, small planes coming and going from Bankstown Airport, children laughing and splashing, cicadas screeching and crows complaining.

Better here than on the Sydney Harbour.
Better here than on the Sydney Harbour.

I had looked forward to Grand Flaneur for its name alone.  The French Flâneur’ is to stroll or wander, generally aimlessly with an air of casual discovery, generally in an urban context.  A flaneur was a creature of the 19th century Parisian literary scene.  A figure of the modern era, Balzac described flanerie as ‘the gastronomy of the eye’.

I like it – I like the idea of flanerie.  I cannot claim this project is one of flanerie as each visit is planned but upon arrival I definitely engage in casual discovery.

My visit to Grand Flaneur was filled with casual discoveries: shop windows full of saris in Liverpool’s business district, the intense neatness of the homes of Chipping Norton, and the utter disregard for putting litter in its place shown by many visitors to the Lake.

Of course, and not surprisingly, the beach was not named after gentlemen who wandered the Parisian literary scene of the 19th century.  This is Australia.  It was named after a race horse.  Grand Flaneur won the Melbourne Cup in 1880 and died at the Chipping Norton Stud in 1900.

The champion horse after whom Grand Flaneur is named.
The champion horse after whom Grand Flaneur is named.

The original residents of the area were the Tharawal people.  European colonisation began in the 1880s.  Farming as well as sand and topsoil mining were common until modern suburban development.  Industrial uses had left the area around the Georges River degraded and in 1977 the Chipping Norton Lakes Authority was set up to rehabilitate the area and develop park lands.

Number 33
Number 33

Grand Flaneur Beach is 22 kilometres (14 miles) from home.  It’s in the Liverpool Local Government Area, the state electorate of Menai (Melanie Gibbons, Liberal) and federal division of Hughes (Craig Kelly, Liberal).

They haven't taken it to heart.
They haven’t taken it to heart.

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